In an extraordinary admission of how deeply unpopular fracking is, Theresa May has announced a bribe in an increasingly desperate attempt to win people over. But opposition to fracking in the UK is so overwhelming that it simply won’t work.
A “Shale Wealth Fund” for local communities was first announced in 2014. It is still yet to be used: fracking hasn't happened in the UK in the last five years due to local communities saying no everywhere fracking companies propose to drill. Now the Government appears to be attempting to divide local communities by paying off individual households. This is the sort of manoeuvre that discredits politicians and undermines people's trust in Government.
The reality is that, for shale to be a serious energy source, we would need hundreds of new wells puncturing our landscape. There just is no social license for the industrialisation of our countryside, and the Government knows it.
Opposition to fracking already stretches right across the country. The hostility in leafy Balcome meant that oil and gas explorer Cuadrilla was blockaded at the gates of its acquired site, and later decided to withdraw. In Lancashire, the council listened to local people and rejected Cuadrilla's application. In Ryedale, the council has approved an application by Third Energy (majority owned by Barclays Bank) to frack, but Friends of the Earth is working with the local community to judicially review the decision.
Judicial review is the last protection for local communities to challenge unlawful decisions by government, but the Government is planning to make that recourse to justice in the courts prohibitively expensive by removing cost caps for environmental cases.
It’s no wonder that objections are so widespread. We already know that fracking is not compatible with tackling climate change. Earlier this year a Harvard study showed a 30 per cent spike in the methane emissions in the US directly correlating with the boom in fracking. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing climate change.
Gas from fracking would simply add to the more than 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves that cannot be burned if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is about the future of an inhabitable planet, not just the impacts on local people and communities.
Because of the health and environmental risks of the practice, it is being banned or put on hold around the world, from New York State to France, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland and Wales. Theresa May started her premiership by saying she would “do everything we can to give you more control over your lives. When we take the big calls, we’ll think not of the powerful, but you. We’ll listen not to the mighty but to you.” Many were hoping that would mean a shift in direction on fracking, away from “going all out” for shale gas and rigging the planning system in favour of fracking company interests instead of local communities. It now appears that hope was in vain.
The next big test will be whether the Government respects the decision of the people of Lancashire to reject fracking. The Government has “called in” the decision and will decide whether to overrule the vote of the local authority – in the name of its constituents – to reject Cuadrilla’s application to frack. Local residents and environmentalists wait on baited breath.
Meanwhile, the Government has all but banned onshore wind even though (contrary to much media coverage) it is much more popular than fracking, is welcomed by local people when it is located in the right place, and is the cheapest form of renewable energy production.
It’s time for Theresa May to listen to the people and accept that fracking isn’t going to happen in the UK. But, instead of focusing on rebuilding our renewable energy and energy efficiency industries after support was slashed by her predecessor, she is handing out bribes. Not a good start from the new Prime Minister.
Liz Hutchins is a senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth
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